Soil is an important part of our environment, particularly for people who use their land for farming or gardening, or for children who play outside. Research shows that toxic substances such as radium, selenium, lead, and other contaminants associated with shale gas development (SGD) can contaminate soil that is close to SGD. Contamination occurs through wastewater releases, venting, flaring, and other activities. Toxic substances may remain in the soil or travel down or up to create groundwater or air pollution.
Image from Anne Manning, 2016
Not only can soil contamination kill vegetation, but it can also sterilize soil and may harm humans and animals. Plants grown in contaminated soil may absorb the contaminants. When consumed by humans, the contaminants may be absorbed into the body resulting in health impacts. Young children are typically at the highest risk of directly ingesting soil contaminants because of their frequent hand-to-mouth behaviors.
Photo by GraphiDA on Unsplash
In addition to eating contaminated plants, humans may consume contaminated livestock. Animals may ingest contaminated grasses, feed, and water; in turn, people are potentially exposed to SGD-related pollutants by ingesting meat or milk from these affected animals.
In areas like drought-stricken California, farmers are using oilfield wastewater to irrigate food crops. Researchers commissioned by Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board are currently working to determine if the practice is safe. However, this is proving to be difficult since, according to reports, “more than a fifth of the chemicals [the researchers] identified—and 60 percent of those deemed most likely to pose a health risk—lacked both toxicity information and approved testing methods.”
If you live near SGD activities and are concerned about the quality of your soil, you can take steps to protect your health. See EHP’s Protecting Your Health page.